“We all have this magnificent organ — the brain — and we need to start taking care of it.”
Those were the words of psychologist Dr. Lili Wagner as she opened the monthly Infinite Mindcare Talk Series session on Alzheimer’s and dementia on Sept. 14 at Books & Books. Wagner said our physical health and the health of our brains go hand in hand and there are many ways that people can be proactive to prevent debilitating diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. If not stimulated and well-cared for, the brain starts to shrink or die, which Wagner said is essentially what happens with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Synapses are destroyed in our brains and the plaques and tangles that develop, mostly through poor health and toxins that we take in over the course of our lives, get in the way of proper brain functioning.
Dementia itself is a neurodegenerative disease and in 60 to 80 per cent of cases, dementia ends up being Alzheimer’s disease.
Wagner said dementia and Alzheimer’s are terrible for people who suffer from the diseases and for their families as well. She offered a quote from “The Wonder Years” television show: “Memory is a way of holding onto things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”
Today there are 50 million people worldwide living with dementia or Alzheimer’s and by 2020 there likely will be some 160 million, Wagner said, adding that every 65 seconds someone in the United States is diagnosed. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., killing more people than breast and prostrate cancer combined. And unlike cancer, no one has ever survived Alzheimer’s.
Wagner explained that there are several different types of dementia, including vascular dementia, alcoholic dementia and Huntington’s disease.
“Dementia is a multifaceted disease; not just one thing causes it,” Wagner said, noting that drugs do not work to correct the disease because by the time symptoms arise, it is too late for drugs to have any impact.
Wagner said dementia sets in when the brain’s “janitor,” a mechanism that cleans out unnecessary proteins and toxins, gets to the point where it can no longer do so because of the continued introduction of toxins from foods, drinks and skincare products. There is also a gene that predisposes people to Alzheimer’s, but it doesn’t mean people will necessarily get the disease.
“Just because we have genes that have Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean it has to express itself,” Wagner said. “It is a myth that you can’t help your brain and body.”
Wagner also said that all people will experience some memory loss as they age, but the real symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s are when people forget things they have known for a long time, like how to tie their shoes or cook their favourite foods. They could also have trouble with driving or get lost on routes they have driven many times. People with the disease often become very frustrated because they can’t understand things, and this leads to behavioural problems.
There are ways to prevent the onset of dementia. Wagner referred to them as “the four Ss”:
Sleep – Getting a good night’s sleep consistently is one of the most powerful ways people can combat diseases because the body repairs itself as it rests. Eight hours is ideal as a minimum. People should avoid sleeping pills, which are brain toxins.
Sustenance – People should eat food that is healthy for their bodies and especially for their gut. They should be sure to get enough vitamin D and avoid sugar. “Sugar is an evil entity,” Wagner said, explaining that it causes high insulin. “There is no doubt that our guts and brains are linked. The bacteria in our guts are necessary for neurotransmitters.”
Serenity – People should reduce stress levels in their lives. Cortisol, which is the body’s main stress hormone, causes inflammation in the body, which is not good, Wagner said. She recommended daily meditation, listening to soothing music and going for slow walks to relax.
Socialising – Human brains need to be stimulated and socialising is an excellent way do this. Wagner said people should stay busy, out of the house, doing volunteer work or doing things that make them feel good about themselves.
In addition, Wagner said that one of the most important ways to combat Alzheimer’s is exercising at least four to five times per week for a minimum of 50 to 60 minutes. The exercise should entail high-intensity activities like dancing, running or biking, and not just walking.
“Getting healthy is hard,” Wagner said. “Getting sick is harder.”
She said everyone should challenge their brains daily with new activities to stimulate it. She said learning a new language or learning how to play a new musical instrument are just two good ways to stimulate the brain. There are also many tools available to help people who want to exercise their brains such as practising memorisation by using the Memory Palace Technique, or other online tools.
“The less you use your brain, the more your brain dies,” she said. “Get passionate about life!”